Is there any way back for Donald Trump after a jury’s sex abuse finding?

The former president’s legal woes are far from over, but he remains a powerful figure in US politics

Americans woke up last Sunday to a poll that challenged conventional political thinking.

It had been generally accepted that former president Donald Trump was way out in front to secure the Republican Party nomination to run for the presidency next year. However, the Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Trump running ahead of current US president Joe Biden by six points in a head-to-head contest.

It is very early in the electoral cycle, and some critics have raised concern about the methodology of that particular poll, but if its findings accurately predict how Americans will vote in 18 months, Trump will be heading back to the White House in January 2025.

Republicans were delighted while it left disappointed Democrats, who wondered if backing Biden to run again was the correct strategy. But within days the mood had changed somewhat.


By Tuesday afternoon a jury in New York had found that Trump did, on the preponderance of the evidence, sexually abuse a magazine columnist in the city nearly 30 years ago.

And by Wednesday night millions of Americans had watched Trump on live TV mock the victim, writer E Jean Carroll; promise to pardon many of those who attacked the US Capitol on January 6th; and encourage US Congress to default on the country’s debt.

The White House appeared to believe Trump had just given it bundles of material to use in the forthcoming campaign. Biden launched an immediate fundraising bid: “It’s simple, folks. Do you want four more years of that? If you don’t, pitch in to our campaign.”

For years, Trump has faced accusations of sexually harassing and assaulting women.

Outside the federal court in Lower Manhattan on Monday some supporters of Carroll handed The Irish Times postcards with images of 26 women who, they said, had made allegations against the former president.

Trump has strongly denied all claims of wrongdoing.

On the 26th floor of the court building, Carroll and her lawyers were seeking to get a jury for the first time to find him liable for sexually attacking a woman.

Carroll claimed she met Trump at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York while he was looking to buy a gift. She alleged she agreed to assist him but when they were in a changing room in the shop, he raped her.

She also contended the former president had defamed her in his reaction to her claims – which he described as a “hoax and a lie”.

There were difficulties with Carroll’s case. She could not remember precisely when it happened and she had not contacted police about the incident. However, she did tell some friends at the time, who gave evidence on her behalf.

Carroll availed of recent legislation in New York that allowed victims to take civil actions against those they claimed had sexually attacked them, after the statute of limitations for any criminal investigation had expired.

As a civil action, there was never any possibility of Trump going to jail. For his part, Trump insisted he did not know who Carroll was and that she was “not his type”.

But in his deposition he appeared to mix up a photo of Carroll with his second wife, Marla Maples – leaving critics to argue that the magazine columnist obviously was “his type” after all.

How E Jean Carroll won her case against Donald Trump

Listen | 23:56

The case also revived the controversy of the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape. In this recording, Trump had spoken privately about those who were famous being able to sexually assault women and “grab them” by the genitals. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Carroll’s lawyers argued these comments were not just “locker room talk”, as Trump had claimed, but rather represented a confession as to how Trump actually treated women.

Trump in his deposition did not disavow his comments. “If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always, but largely true. Unfortunately, or fortunately.”

Trump did not give evidence directly in the case and essentially provided no defence. It took the jury less than three hours to determine he had sexually abused and defamed Carroll. The jury did not find that he had raped her.

The jury said Trump should pay Carroll $5 million in compensation.

Republican strategist John Feehery says for many loyal Trump supporters their support is based on the view he is a voice for them. 'Any sense that he is a moral failure is already baked in the cake'

Within the Republican Party there some criticism of Trump, but not much. Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who is running for the Republican nomination, said the verdict was another sign of Trump’s “indefensible behaviour”.

Former Trump ally and latterly critic Chris Christie argued the former president must be the unluckiest person in the world that random people he had never met were able to convince a jury that he sexually abused them. “I mean, this guy. It is one person after another, one woman after another. The stories just continue to pile up.”

However, former vice-president Mike Pence said he did not believe the jury’s finding about Trump was something the American people were focused on.

Republican strategist in Washington John Feehery tells The Irish Times he would not be surprised if Trump’s poll numbers increased after the Carroll case as he was once again dominating the news cycle. He adds that Trump won in 2016 despite the Access Hollywood comments. “I don’t think this particular case changes any of the dynamics whatsoever.”

Feehery says for many loyal Trump supporters their support is based on the view he is a voice for them. “Any sense that he is a moral failure is already baked in the cake.

“If anyone thinks this [Carroll verdict] is going to hurt Donald Trump, they are smoking some really good pot.”

Trump in an appearance at a CNN town hall event in New Hampshire on Wednesday claimed his approval rating had increased following the Carroll case.

The CNN event was billed as Trump’s first main TV appearance outside his conservative media bubble in several years.

However, there was to be no emergence of a more moderate, reconstructed Trump 2.0 for the new presidential election. Instead, viewers were treated to a reprieve of the greatest hits: the 2020 election was rigged, the country was going to hell and things would get worse if he were not re-elected; Carroll was a “wack job”; he would accept the 2024 results if they were “honest”.

The audience was composed of Republican or independent voters, and many laughed with Trump as he mocked the woman he had been found to have sexually abused – confirming his continuing popularity with sections of his party supporters.

This week marked the conclusion (for the present) of the Carroll case. But it is by no means the end of Trump’s legal difficulties. Potentially more dangerous cases, with criminal liability, may yet lie ahead.

There may also be a second round (or even a third) of litigation between Carroll and Trump. The former president has said he will appeal this week’s jury verdict

In Georgia district attorney Fani Willis is investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She recently suggested potential indictments could come between July and September. A special grand jury had been looking at Trump’s effort to press state election officials to “find” sufficient votes to give him victory in Georgia.

At a national level a special counsel, Jack Smith, has also been investigating attempts by the former president and his allies to overturn the 2020 election result. He has already brought Pence before a grand jury to give evidence about events in the final weeks of the Trump administration.

Smith is also examining Trump’s handling of classified documents taken from the White House and found at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Trump is already facing charges brought by the district attorney in Manhattan over alleged business fraud in trying to conceal “hush money” payments to an adult film star over an alleged affair. The former president is pleading not guilty. This case could go to trial next spring but in the meantime there is likely to be a whole plethora of legal moves to delay or dismiss the proceedings or change the location.

Trump’s business is also likely to be at a centre of a civil action brought by the New York attorney general accusing it of misleading insurers, banks and government agencies about the value of its assets. This could go to trial in autumn.

There may also be a second round (or even a third) of litigation between Carroll and Trump. The former president has said he will appeal this week’s jury verdict. He has alleged the judge did not allow him to enter certain material into evidence while Carroll had freedom to introduce everything she wanted.

Carroll has also signalled that she is suing him over other comments he made about her in 2019 – the case this week dealt with remarks made last year.

Trump was back in the political spotlight this week, but it remains to be seen whether he can expand his support base among independents and, particularly, suburban female voters, who will be crucial if he is to again become president.